But what happens if something goes wrong? What if the hard drive is infected by a virus, or the computer crashes, or the processor no longer works, or the machine is stolen or destroyed by fire?
Everything will be fine as long as you have successfully backed up your hard drive on a regular and ongoing basis. Many people don't think of this until it's too late. A backup is a device or a system for creating a copy of the information on your computer stored in such a manner that if you do have a terminal system failure, you can restore the information from that copy. With that backup, all you have to do is get your computer up and running by doing the necessary repairs or replacements, restoring program files (available from your product vendor, even if you don't have a copy of them) if necessary, and restoring your data.
If you do not have a backup, you face the long arduous and difficult task of figuring out the status of customer accounts: who your customers are, what their contact information is, which units they rent, how much money they owe and when, which letters they have been sent, what access codes and times they have, and what history they have with your establishment. I have seen self-storage sites go through this process, and it creates a great deal of tension between the site manager and his customers. There will be times when a customer arrives to make a payment or access his unit and he will and not be permitted access because his information has been wiped out. Often, the manager has to guess at balances owed, and mistakes are made as to who occupies which unit. This can cost a site thousands of dollars, not to mention the cost of labor. In some cases, printed reports can be relied upon, but even then, a report only provides so much information.
Many operators do not understand just how important it is to have backups and do not properly establish a backup plan. A good backup plan involves determining the files to be backed up and the media to be used, who will do the backup, the timing and frequency of backing up, the location of the backups, and testing the backups to ensure they are recoverable. See your local computer technician to create the plan that's right for you and testing it.
The media on which you choose to store your backups should reflect an understanding of which files need to be saved and who will be responsible for the process. You can backup internally to another hard drive or to an outside source: tape, recordable CD, Zip drive or the Internet. In the event you have a network, it is also possible to backup from a local drive to a network drive; however, even networks should be backed up on a regular basis.
Consult with your software vendor to find out which files should be backed up and the best media for your particular application. Keep in mind recordable CDs are now low-cost and can be read by just about any CD drive in your computer, whereas tape and Zip media require compatible devices to be read in the event computers require replacement.
Timing and Frequency
How often a backup should occur is largely dependant on the amount of data input and how timely and costly it would be to have to recreate that data. For most self-storage facilities, an external backup done daily is sufficient to meet the needs of a possible recovery. However, it is important to recognize that if the media is reuseable, one backup should never be done consecutively on top of another because if something goes wrong with the second backup, it will overwrite and destroy the first. It is generally also good to maintain an end-of-week, end-of-month and end-of-year backup.
Where you store backups is also important. Many managers of self-storage sites do the backup at the end of the business day and then leave the copy right next to the computer. But things can go wrong at the office where the backup was initiated. I remember a site where a burglary occurred and the thieves took all of the backup media. In another case, a fire destroyed the office and all of its contents. So it makes sense to ensure periodic backups are being stored away from the office. A backup delivered to an offsite location on a periodic basis is a great idea. Generally, backups should be maintained offsite for a specified period of time.
Even if nothing happens at the self-storage office, it is important for management companies and owners to recognize they need off-site backups in the event of employee sabotage. I have seen many occasions where disgruntled managers have left and taken the backups and even the computer, or disabled the computer and destroyed backups, before they left.
It is important to ensure the backup you have is actually successful for its intended purpose. Backups should be periodically tested to make sure the data has come over successfully. There's nothing worse than attempting to do a recovery on a computer only to find out your backup is somehow defective. You can test your backup by actually simulating a recovery. Make sure you know what the steps to recovery are and that the backup will work effectively. Don't just do this once and forget about it. Do the testing on a regularly scheduled basis.
In today's environment, it is also important to recognize your data may be hosted and maintained by an application service provider (ASP). Know what the ASP's backup and recovery plan is--you want to be sure you will not be down or lose valuable data because of the provider's lack of planning or equipment. Knowing you have a failsafe backup plan will allow you to breathe a sigh of relief in the event a computer catastrophe occurs at your self-storage location.
Michael Skrentny is president of Mystic Systems Technology Corp. (MSTC), which provides Windows-based management software, gate and alarm software, and access and alarm hardware to the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.289.6782 or visit www.mysticsystems.com.
Mystic Systems Technology Corp. (MSTC)
Contact: Michael Skrentny, Kathy Drybread
Product(s): Account Manager
Software Type: Management software
Price Range: $1,795-$3,495
Designed specifically for storage? Yes
Current version on market since: Product on market since 2000, current version since 2003.
New version to be released: February 2004
Demo: Available on CD.
Tech support: Four plans offer 24/7/365 support. Cost varies based on plan.
MSTC's Account Manager for Windows is a comprehensive, user-friendly, flexible onsite property-management system. It is account-based, making multiple unit rentals and contacts per tenant account easy and thorough. It lets property managers accomplish flexible payment, billing and invoice options. During automatic processing, it assesses all fees and rent due. Additionally, it generates and prints all onsite collection letters and reports, and delivers real-time financial data to the home office and ownership members via a unique corporate-transmittals feature on the Internet. The program's uniquely designed letter-wiritng system allows the creation of personalized letters, invoices, receipts, leases and forms, all of which can be merged with a variety of site- and customer-specific data. Account Manager also features monitoring of all system-wide alterations, making audit control easy and understandable. Options include insurance, photo, and automatic, Internet-based, credit-card processing modules. The program completely integrates with MSTC's Security Manager for Windows, which provides system-wide gate-automation and alarm-security options.